Issue #151, Fall 2007
Getting it Done
An AmeriCorps program that brings together talented young people and community-development groups seeking greater capacity is making a difference in Indianapolis.
By Theresa Grimason
At a job fair at Indiana University in Bloomington
in the fall of 2006, I was introduced to an AmeriCorps program that
partnered college graduates with community development corporations
(CDCs) in Indianapolis. I had just graduated and was struggling to find
a job that I was interested in and qualified for. The program initially
interested me because it was a chance to gain valuable professional
experience, which would enhance my resume. At the same time, I would
have the opportunity to work on projects that would have a positive
effect on the community, which was something that was important to me
as part of a job.
I interviewed with a couple of the CDCs, and during
the second round, I met Christie Gillespie, the executive director at
the Indiana Association for Community
Economic Development (IACED). Gillespie explained that an AmeriCorps
member at IACED would conduct research on membership and on federal
and state policy. As a double major in sociology and political science,
I felt that this opportunity would allow me to use the skills and knowledge
that I had gained in college, as other job possibilities that I had
found post-graduation had not.
It's no secret that CDCs are continually challenged
in their ability to serve communities effectively. Many CDCs are losing
experienced staff as the baby boomers retire, and the organizations
are having a hard time attracting qualified replacements. Cuts to Community
Development Block Grant and Home Investment Partnership programs add
to capacity problems. As a result, CDCs are finding it increasingly
necessary to devise new ways to make a difference in their service areas.
Coalition for Neighborhood Development (ICND) is no exception. ICND
is an association of neighborhood-based community development corporations,
which represents CDCs from around the city. One of the problems local
CDCs had was finding money to hire staff to perform the many tasks necessary
to achieve specific neighborhood goals. In 2005, ICND began a student
internship program that would introduce aspiring practitioners to the
community economic development field in the hopes of creating new leaders.
As the coalition was designing the internship, it learned about an AmeriCorps
program that supports organizations that address community needs statewide.
The program gives its members (primarily recent college graduates) an
opportunity for professional development in faith-based and community
groups. AmeriCorps members provide direct service to address a community's
Past activities have included tutoring elementary-
and middle-school children, providing services to the elderly and disabled,
and assisting low-income citizens with legal matters. ICND signed on
with the AmeriCorps program to build the capacity of Indianapolis CDCs
and to gain staffers who can work on everything from research to economic
improvement districts and get things done at a fraction of the cost.
AmeriCorps members receive a small living stipend during their year
of service. The stipend is covered by funds contributed by participating
CDCs and matched by the AmeriCorps program.
ICND dubbed its one-year internship program AmeriCorps
L.D.R.S. (which stands for "Learning about community development,
Developing neighborhoods by leveraging human resources, Recruiting new
leaders, and Sustaining communities"). Nine CDCs around Indianapolis
were chosen as host sites for the AmeriCorps members who would work
on projects the organizations wanted to address, but didn't have the
staff to do so.
Initially, as a new member who signed on for ICND's
AmeriCorps L.D.R.S. program, I worried about my lack of knowledge about
community economic development and how it would affect the work I was
going to do. But ICND holds a three-day training course on community
development covering the basics of CDCs as well as information specific
to Indianapolis neighborhoods. ICND also sets up mandatory monthly member
meetings and trainings to provide in-depth information on issues in
community development such as funding, addressing abandoned properties,
and volunteer organizing. With this kind of support, I was confident
that the other members and I would have the opportunity to learn the
different aspects of community economic development.
Our work doesn't simply entail answering phones,
making copies, or running errands. Each of us receives a work plan detailing
the goals we should achieve during our year of service. We are free
to explore different methods of achieving goals for our host site, as
well as pursuing additional projects that could benefit the neighborhoods
in which we work. My AmeriCorps L.D.R.S. colleagues and I, some of whose
stories follow, have been at our host sites since December 2006 and
have accomplished a great deal in a few short months.
Theresa Grimason, 23, Indiana Association for
Community Economic Development
Because the Indiana Association for Community Economic
Development (IACED), my AmeriCorps host site, serves CDCs statewide,
the particulars of my job are different from those of others in the
ICND program. I have worked on a number of projects to support IACED's
membership and mission. For example, I implemented a telephone survey
to gauge members' relationships with local elected officials and got
a response rate that was higher than earlier member survey efforts.
In February, I began working with the National
Alliance for Community Economic Development Associations (NACEDA),
a new organization on whose steering committee my host site supervisor
sits. I worked closely with Jane DeMarines, NACEDA's executive director,
to help organize the group's first summit in Washington, D.C. As a result
of my work, NACEDA gave me a scholarship to attend the gathering. Not
only was it the first time I had ever been to Washington D.C., it was
the first time I had been on an airplane.
Leah Sirmin, 23, West Indianapolis Development
Sirmin spends most of her time working on the Great
Indy Neighborhood Initiative, or GINI, which provides staffing,
planning assistance, and seed funding to help neighbors collaborate
on issues affecting their neighborhoods. As part of her assignment,
Sirmin will survey business owners to find out how much they want to
be involved in the community and if they have concerns about the neighborhood.
She hopes this contact with local businesses will enable the West
Indianapolis Development Corporation to create a job board for people
seeking work in the community.
Bradley Snow, 28, Riley
Area Development Corporation
Snow is working on a plan for an economic improvement
district for his neighborhood. The district will unite community business
owners who can leverage money to invest in their blocks. "The money
could help with public art, facade improvements, additional pocket parks,
and marketing the district," Snow says. In addition, he is talking
with Indianapolis public transportation officials about bringing a bus
line down to Massachusetts Avenue, one of the main corridors in the
Jeremy Crum, 30, Martindale-Brightwood Community
Crum has been assisting with the organization of
a 10-block neighborhood-cleanup campaign. "The goal is to replace
accumulated litter and strewn debris with a sense of community pride
by way of neighbors' volunteer efforts." He hopes that this initial
cleanup will motivate others to work on their respective blocks, following
the example of their neighbors.
Nikiya Tucker, 25, King Park Area Development
Tucker is writing a resource booklet for the people
in her neighborhood. It will include guidelines to help those in the
process of researching and applying for mortgages. It will also contain
tools to guide individuals purchasing or refinancing a home. She says,
"We hope that as a result of this book, residents will come to
our office and utilize our offered services of homebuyer assistance,
like understanding the loan application and approval process and home-repair
loans and credit counseling."
These are just a few examples of what the AmeriCorps
L.D.R.S. members are doing in Indianapolis neighborhoods. All members
work on a variety of projects, helping to fill in where their CDCs need
The AmeriCorps L.D.R.S. program has created a mutually
beneficial relationship, allowing CDCs to expand capacity and increase
their impact in their neighborhoods and AmeriCorps members to acquire
professional skills and experience in the community development field.
"Being on the staff of my CDC as an AmeriCorps member, I have now
been given the opportunity to learn valuable skills and acquire the
training necessary to become a viable change agent in a community,"
Crum says of his experience.
For me, the L.D.R.S. program has been an incredible
opportunity to acquire professional training and an understanding of
the community development field that I will carry with me as I enter
the work world. Moreover, I have had the satisfaction of helping IACED
complete activities to support its work around the state.
Programs like AmeriCorps L.D.R.S. create new leaders
and allies to aid community development in the future. In the end, this
can only benefit CDCs in their effort to improve communities around
the United States.
Theresa Grimason is a graduate of Indiana University with a bachelor's degree in sociology and political science.